ORG Volume 8, page 5458 lists this poem as Verse No.1102. It was first published in The Years Between (1919). See also David Alan Richards, p. 142 for further details of publication. It is collected in:
Theme and Background
The poet considers various mishaps and disasters experienced by humankind since prehistoric times, commonly blamed on the Gods or the priests. He concludes that most are of man’s own making through carelessness and lack of thought. So much for theology.
A critical comment
Jan Montefiore, in The Kipling Journal 367 for March 2017, notes:
The starting point of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Natural Theology’ is Robert Browning’s monologue "Caliban upon Setebos: or, Natural Theology in the Island", spoken by Shakespeare’s enslaved savage meditating on the nature of his god, whom he imagines as a more powerful version of his own brutalized self. Kipling knew this poem well; in Stalky & Co. ‘Beetle’ quotes it while leafing through Browning’s poems in search of inspirational lines ("Slaves of the Lamp" I. p. 52). His own ‘Natural Theology’ clearly echoes Browning’s Caliban, not only in the title but in the opening ‘Primitive’ who so regrettably dined on rotting whale-meat.
[Title] The Oxford English Dictionary defines Theology as:
Dealing with knowledge of God as gained from his works by the light of nature and reason.[Verse 1]
PRIMITIVE at a very early stage of cultural development.
stranded driven on to the sea-shore by force of weather or tide, and unable to swim away. The carcass would rot.
purged a word of several meanings connected with cleaning or clearing, here indicating a thorough evacuation of the bowels.
sick vomiting or simply unwell, here probably both.
PAGAN heathen, especially in antiquity.
a harmless flea Plague and other diseases are carried by fleas - see “A Doctor of Medicine” (Rewards and Fairies p. 264, line 25. Also Dr. Gillian Sheehan’s "Kipling and Medicine".
kith and kin once meaning 'friends and relations', now 'relations'.
MEDIÆVAL the Middle Ages generally refers to the thousand years between the end of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, from about the Fifth Century to the Fifteenth.
privy a latrine, the sewage drops into a pit below and contaminates the ground so wells nearby contain the germs of cholera and other diseases which will be transmitted to humans in their drinking-water.
well a deep, usually circular, hole dug in the ground and lined with masonry, to provide a water-supply.
Christendie a poetic or archaic version of 'Christendom', Christian countries and peoples generally.
fevers the patients suffer abnormally high body-temperature and other symptoms caused by infection. See Dr. Gillian Sheehan’s Kipling and Medicine.
fluxes in this context morbid discharges of blood etc.
MATERIAL Concerned with commercial rather than spiritual matters.
eight hundred hens to the acre Heavy and unhealthy overcrowding. Poultry kept out of doors needed sunshine and green grass. But to be healthy they need to be kept at not more than one hundred to the acre (40 square metres per bird).
dozens a dozen is twelve.
L. S. D. the abbreviation for the Latin Libræ solidi denarii 'Pounds, shillings and pence'
PROGRESSIVE modern, forward-thinking. but here used in a derogatory sense by Kipling in the same manner as “the Immoderate left” in "My Son’s Wife" (A Diversity of Creatures) and other works, reflecting his right-wing views and belief in a strong Navy and Army.
Mons retreat This was the withdrawal to the River Marne, in August and September 1914 by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French Fifth Army, in the early weeks of the Great War (1914-1918). See our Notes on "The Soul of a Battalion" one of Kipling's uncollected speeches. Kipling’s own son John was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915 (Carrington, p. 436 passim). A body believed to be his was later found but turned out to be that of another soldier. See KJ228/08 and KJ263/09.
pillage plunder, rob, loot
arson setting on fire the property of others
the Times a newspaper established as 1785 as the London Daily Universal Register which was changed to The Times in 1788. Writing to The Times is still a traditional method of airing a grievance, though the paper has lost some of its authority in recent years.
CHORUS all voices singing together
Spirit He breathed in Man, see Genesis, Chapter 2, verse 7.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.As was the sowing so the reaping, an echo of Hudibras (line 504) by Samuel Butler (1612-1680).
For, as you sow, so are you like to reapSee Jan Montefiore’s comment above, where she traces the origin of this quotation to St Paul's letter to the Galatians, in the New Testament, which Kipling would probably have known from his unhappy time as a foster-child in “The House Of Desolation” in Southsea.
©John McGivering 2011 All rights reserved